Designing Models and Services for LMS in Mobile Settings

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					              Designing Models and Services
   for Learning Management Systems in Mobile Settings

      Alfio Andronico1, Antonella Carbonaro2, Luigi Colazzo3, Andrea Molinari3,
                       Marco Ronchetti4, and Anna Trifonova4
     1Dipartimento di Ingegneria Dell'Informazione, Università degli Studi di Siena, Italy
                                 andronico@unisi.it
               2 Department of Computer Science, University of Bologna, Italy
                               carbonar@csr.unibo.it
       3 Department of Computer and Management Sciences, University of Trento, Italy
                         {colazzo,amolinar}@cs.unitn.it
   4 Department of Information and Communication Technology. University of Trento, Italy
        marco.ronchetti@unitn.it, anna.trifonova@dit.unitn.it



         Abstract. The paper presents the guidelines of a project of three Italian Univer-
         sities (Bologna, Siena, Trento) which aim is to investigate the use of mobile
         computing technologies to support the learning processes in a University con-
         text. The project covers three main areas. The first area is concerned with find-
         ing effective models for mobile learning. The second regards the evaluation of
         learning processes in mobile learning environments. The third focuses on the
         technological aspects of mobile learning, and on their integration with e-
         Learning systems, and more generally, with the information systems of the aca-
         demic institutions. The project has its foundations in the availability of signifi-
         cant experience on e-learning real processes, and on the availability of the
         source code of an e-learning system developed in previous projects and cur-
         rently used by different faculties, and of the newer platform that gathers the ex-
         perience obtained in the past.


1 Introduction
Mobile learning is a field which combines two very promising areas – mobile
computing and e-learning. Mobile learning could be considered any form of learning
(studying) and teaching that occurs in a mobile environment or through a mobile
device, like cellular phones, Personal Digital Assistants (PDA), smartphones, tablet
PC etc. On the other side of mobile learning, we have e-learning, i.e., every educa-
tional process assisted by computers through the networks, and Internet in particular.
M-learning has been considered as the future of learning or as an integral part of any
other form of educational process in the future.
   As m-learning is quite a new domain, there is a lot of work and research that is
presently going on. Specifically, people are trying to understand:
• which learning models can help obtaining better learning processes when commu-
  nication is mediated by mobile devices, and how the student mobility affects
  her/his learning process.



F. Crestani et al. (Eds.): Mobile and Ubiquitous Info. Access Ws 2003, LNCS 2954, pp. 90–106, 2004.
© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2004
   Designing Models and Services for Learning Management Systems in Mobile Settings    91


• how it is possible to evaluate efficiency and effectiveness of learning processes
  based upon mobile technologies, given the physical limitation of mobile devices.
• which services are useful for mobile devices, which is the enabling technology that
  can affect the wide diffusion of mobile learning.
   A mobile learning educational process can be considered as any learning and
teaching activity that is possible through mobile tools, or in settings where mobile
equipment is available. National and international researches in the m-learning field
are geared towards some lines that we shall here overview. Different devices that
exist and all the devices that are coming up on the market, with their limitations and
advancements, provoke different ideas for applying them on learning, thus any device
can mean different m-learning. Among the open problems, some are relative to the
pedagogical use of mobile devices. Since the m-learning term appeared for the first
time, some research has been done to investigate the cognitive and pedagogical as-
pects.
   Investigation had been done also on how useful mobile computing devices could
be for reading or for workplace activities [1], on the basis of studying activity theory.
Some authors [2] try to give directions to application designers for the areas, where
the mobile devices should be most useful. Others [3] are trying to achieve conclusions
by analyzing the theories of adult informal learning. In a few papers some interesting
positive sides of using new technologies are underlined i.e. the participants are ex-
cited and want to try “new” things.
Some findings show that introducing new forms of teaching (even if this means just
using a standard tool for drawing on a PDA) make students spend more time in work-
ing on that subject, comparing to the other subjects.[4] The currently evaluations and
analyses of m-learning projects show many positive results. On the other hand there
are some doubts if this excitement is, or is not, a temporary side effect. Most of the
researchers think ([5][6]) that PDAs and other mobile devices should be seen more
like extension, rather than replace the existing learning tools. Moreover not all kinds
of learning content and/or learning activities are appropriate for mobile devices [7].
   The paper will present our view regarding the topic on mobile computing. In par-
ticular, we’ll present a project of our three Universities in which we want to use an
existing Learning Management System and adapt it to the needs of mobility, having
the source code of the system available. This mobile platform will be used to test
principally new models for learning in mobile settings and tools for assessment of
learning process through the use of mobile technologies. These objectives will be
pursued through:
• Adoption of a well tested e-learning platform adapted to the usage of mobile de-
  vices
• Implementation mobile computing services in a University setting
• Study of learning models linked to mobile technologies
• Study of learning evaluation models based in an m-learning environment
• Design and development of Learning Objects suited to mobile learning, together
  with services for evaluating their effectiveness
• Experimentation of prototypes built in real learning processes
   The paper is organized as follows: first we will present the state of the art in mobile
learning, then we will briefly present the three elements that in our opinion help to
build a mobile learning environment, i.e., models, evaluation systems, back-office
92   Alfio Andronico et al.

tools. Next we will present the guidelines for studying new models for learning proc-
esses in mobile settings, and one approach for the evaluation of these processes. Fi-
nally, the problems faced and choices made regarding the adaptation of a Learning
Management System to mobile needs will be outlined.


2 State of the Art in Mobile Learning
The state-of-the-art in mobile learning research is heavily conditioned by the features
of the devices available on the market. Different user interfaces, capabilities and con-
nectivity may generate different ideas for possible learning applications: each single
device can mean a different way to “m-learn”. We shall here review the main trends
and indicate some of the relevant papers in the field, with special attention to the
themes that are more closely related with the aim of the present paper. A more exten-
sive analysis of the state of the art can be found in [8][9].
   Among the open problems, some are relative to the pedagogical use of mobile de-
vices. Some research has investigated the cognitive and pedagogical aspects. Investi-
gation had been done also on how useful mobile computing devices could be for read-
ing or for workplace activities [1], on the basis of studying activity theory. Some
authors [2] try to give directions to application designers for the areas, where the
mobile devices should be most useful. Others [3] are trying to achieve conclusions by
analyzing the theories of adult informal learning. In a few papers some interesting
positive sides of using new technologies are underlined i.e. the participants are ex-
cited and want to try “new” things. Some findings show that introducing new forms of
teaching (even if this means just using a standard tool for drawing on a PDA) make
students spend more time in working on that subject, comparing to the other sub-
jects.[4] The current evolution and the analyses of m-learning projects show many
positive results. On the other hand there are some doubts if this excitement is, or is
not, a temporary side effect. Most of the researchers think ([5][6]) that PDAs and
other mobile devices should not be seen as a replacement of existing learning tools,
but rather as a new and different opportunity. Moreover not all kinds of learning con-
tent and/or learning activities are appropriate for mobile devices [7].
   People are experimenting with the application of m-learning to different fields: a
promising one is language learning. At Stanford Learning Lab [10] an exploration of
mobile learning has been done by developing prototypes that integrate practicing new
words, taking a quiz, accessing word and phrase translations, working with a live
coach, and saving vocabulary to a notebook. They envisioned that a good approach
would be to fill the gaps of time by short (from 30 seconds to 10 minutes) learning
modules in order to use the highly fragmented attention of the user while on the
move. The research indicates some very useful directions, like the length of the learn-
ing materials, the personalization of interaction and the frustration of the user and the
decreasing of the perception of the learning materials because of the poor technologi-
cal implementation. In the same field an ongoing project [11] aims at porting to mo-
bile systems an ad-hoc language-learning system developed for the special needs of
an Italian bilingual region, where every public officer is supposed to be fluent in Ital-
ian and German. One problem investigated in this context is the one of anticipating
user’s need and pre-caching the needed content when a cheap and fast connection
(such as a direct connection via cradle) is available, since the whole material is too
large to fit in a small palmtop device.
   Designing Models and Services for Learning Management Systems in Mobile Settings   93

   Many authors approach m-learning in the context of life-long learning. One of the
biggest initiatives in such domain is the HandLeR project [12] (University of Bir-
mingham). The project attempts to understand in depth the process of learning in
different contexts and to explore the lifelong learning. The stress is on communication
and on human-centred systems design. Similar in some concepts to HandLeR is the
project undertaken at the Tampere University of Technology (Finland) [13], where
PDAs are used for mathematical education of children. The study-content is presented
in the form of a game where the pupils can communicate and help each others and the
electronic device is used to measure the average students’ knowledge level and to
adapt the speed of presenting new material to the learners’ ability.
   One of the most straightforward application of the usage of mobile devices as edu-
cational supporting tool is messaging. At Kingston University (UK) an experiment
was undertaken to research the effectiveness of a two-way SMS campaign in the uni-
versity environment [14,15]. The team has developed a system that sends SMS to
students, registered to the service, about their schedule, changes in it, examinations
dates and places, student’s marks and etc. The conclusions of the experiment were
that the students in certain scenarios where a certain type of response is required pre-
ferred SMS as a medium to e-mail or web-based announces. SMS could be efficiently
used in education (m-learning) as a complementary media. As the technology im-
proves (i.e. EMS and MMS, potential more user-friendly interface) the potential in-
creases too. For this reason, as explained in the next sections, we decided to include in
our experimentation the management of SMS from teachers / administrative staff to
students as one of the approaches to info-mobility. Also at the University of Helsinki
the LIVE (Learning In Virtual Environment) experiments, made with SMS system and
with WAP phones, were very positive [16]. The project went on by introducing digital
imaging and sharing photos between the participants (teachers). The conclusions were
that it is very possible that the introduction of MMS and the other 3G services in the
large scene will lead to more and more possibilities for m-learning. Another project
[17] on evaluation of a Short Messaging System (SMS) to support undergraduate
students was done at Sheffield Hallam University. The implemented system was
again not for learning, but for managing learning activities (to guide, prompt and
support the students in their learning). The findings were overwhelmingly positive,
with students perceiving the system to be ‘immediate, convenient and personal’. Posi-
tive results were underlined and after the outcomes from a survey in Norway - almost
100% of the students in that University have cell phones and SMS system would be
widely accepted [18]. Once again an SMS system was considered to be used to spread
information about lectures and classes, corrections in the schedule and etc. In certain
cases students find it more convenient than e-mail or WWW as the information al-
ways comes on time. These projects open some very important issues to be consid-
ered in doing further research in the mobile learning domain. One is that the current
technology gives enough powerful instruments to support some new forms of auxil-
iary learning tools. They also show the enthusiasm of the students to accept such new
technologies.
   Several m-learning projects focus on of how to apply e-learning techniques and
content on mobile platforms. The UniWap project ([19][20][21][22]) concentrated on
testing the use of WAP technology in higher education, by exploring the process of
creating an operating environment for studying and teaching through smart-phones
and WAP phones. One phase of the project was to create some working prototypes
94   Alfio Andronico et al.

(courses modules) and to investigate the problems and the value of such courses. The
positive results they encountered (easy to develop, willingly accepted and widely used
modules) encourage them to continue investigating the new coming technologies –
digital imaging with mobile devices, 3G, etc. At Ultralab M-Learning project the team
is producing m-learning materials for people with literacy and numeracy problems
[23],[24]. A great potential is encountered from the cognitive and pedagogical point
of view, even by using simple development tools (Macromedia Flash).
   “From E-learning to M-Learning” [7] is a long-time project that aims at creating a
learning environment for wireless technologies by developing course materials for
range of mobile devices. The authors discuss the devices characteristics that are
proper for learning and highlight analogies and differentiation between e-learning, d-
learning (distance learning) and m-learning. They also try to predict which methods
and technologies should be used for successful m-learning.
   Tourist and museum guides are often considered to be applications in mobile learn-
ing domain. They usually refer to newest technologies as location-discovery via
GPRS, radio frequency or etc. However we rather consider them as a separate
applicative field and therefore we will not discuss them in this context. Also, due to
space constraints we cannot discuss the very interesting approach of using mobile
devices in the framework of collaborative and problem-based learning. The interested
reader can find indications and a short discussion of this topics in [9].
   In conclusion, the overall view on the existing research work and projects in the m-
learning domain shows that it most probably applies best to processes, where specific
knowledge should be retrieved/accessed in a certain moment, where discussions in
distributed groups (i.e. brainstorming) appear, where data is collected or utilized “on
the field”, and where context-information is strongly related to the learning content.
The nature of mobile devices, with their small screens and poor input capabilities
leads to the assumption that they can not replace the standard desktop computers or
laptops. However, the same properties can make them efficient in learning domain, if
certain constraints are kept ([7][17][25][26]):
• Short modules (max 5-10 minutes). Users should be able to use their small frag-
  ments of waiting time (i.e. waiting for a meeting or while travelling in a train) for
  learning, like reading small pieces of data, doing quizzes or using forums or chat
  for finding answers to “on field” questions.
• Simple, funny and added value functionality. The limited computational power and
  the other properties of mobile devices (as they are today) make it difficult to use
  complex and multimedia content. One should find it more interesting or necessary
  and useful (or at least equally) to study using this m-learning system in his/her 5
  min. break than playing a game on the same device.
• Area/Domain specific content, delivered just in time/place. The mobility should
  bring the ability to guideline and support students and teachers in new learning
  situations when and where it is necessary. The dependency of the content can be
  relative to location context (i.e. the system knows the location where the learner
  resides and adjusts to it), temporal context (i.e. the system is aware of time de-
  pendent data), behavioural context (i.e. the system monitors the activities per-
  formed by the learner and responds to them adjusting its behaviour) and interest
  specific context (i.e. the system modifies its behaviour according to the user’s
  preferences). Of course a mix of the contextual dependencies is possible and likely.
   Designing Models and Services for Learning Management Systems in Mobile Settings   95


3 The Three Elements of Building
  a Mobile Learning Environment

As said in the introduction, the aim of the project has three key elements. Firstly, we
are interested into analyzing and viewing the system as whole and thus researching,
whenever it would be possible, models that would allow us to individuate the rela-
tionships that connect those elements, as well as their knowledge value and reach.
Therefore, the concept of model becomes the basis to connect the learning process
with the languages, the methods, and the tools that are employed to implement and
experiment the Virtual-Real Learning Communities. Such communities should deliver
evaluations of the result of learning process and objective measurements parameters,
which are (possibly) independent from the teaching contents.
   A second but not secondary issue is concerned with how to evaluate the m-learning
tools and their model as a function of the induced quality in the learning processes.
Talking about good quality in distance learning is undoubtedly a not easy task. Not
easy for various reasons, first among everybody because has not closed the debate on
what he understands, in more general sense, for quality of a formative intervention,
with all what which this involves yet: didactic effectiveness, social and professional
impact, investment, etc. We would like to assume for quality not as much the excel-
lence as rather the management of a continuous process to approach the most possible
the wished effect (for instance, what one wishes is learned) to real effect (what which
has been learned). We call such systems closed ring, key element of this kind of sys-
tematic realignment is a constant monitoring aiming to the evaluation both of the
users and of the whole process. The system of new generation which we intend to
develop is based on the interaction of all the parts of the process, to give way to the
distributor of the formative action, to monitor the process and to regulate it, when
necessary, wished to redirect it adequately toward the effect.
   A key element for this is a constant monitoring, whose aim is to both evaluate us-
ers and the whole process. The new generation tool that we intend to develop is based
on the interaction of all process components, so as to allow tutors to monitor and steer
the process. In such way it will be possible to achieve a better coherence with the
stated objectives, making therefore easier to reach the desired goals. More in detail,
the evaluation of the proposed system is expressed in functionalities which refer to
various kinds of Assessment. The first and simpler functionality is the self-evaluation
which must be understood as complement of an educational process. The self-
evaluation is not sufficient to guarantee the success of an educational process, in fact,
not all the students are able to self-manage it in an effective way. So, we would like to
consider some other assessment strategies. The evaluation process assumes as a good
evaluation is not reduced to the administering of a final test and to the production of a
judgment, or more simply of a vote. The assessment must to precede, to follow and to
direct all the formative process. That means that the system obtains information about
the students before beginning a course (using previous relationships with the same
student or a diagnostic test), during the development (through the analysis of link and
documents chosen by the same students, explicit preferences and formative tests) and
in conclusion of unitary subject sections.
   A big complexity resides in the difficulty for the electronic computers to semanti-
cally interpret sentences in natural language. A first approach to the problem has been
performed trying to isolate the verifiable difficulties in traditional testing systems
96      Alfio Andronico et al.

(refer in particular to the North American model, which uses questions with answers
to multiple choice). These have been summarized in the following six points, con-
cerning multiple choice tests:
•    they are concerning the results of the learning process, not to the processes
•    they underline the knowledge level not the potential of learning
•    they are far from the working contexts
•    the memory can sometimes be more useful than the comprehension
•    the so-called tests-taking skills can affect the result.
   Possible answers to these problems are presented in [27]. In the context of the pre-
sent project we would like to highlight two particulars. First of all, the personalization
of the tests is possible only in presence of a student model that memorizes a descrip-
tion of his expertise and brings up to date. Besides, the enlargement of the field of
action of the evaluation, from the results to all the educational process, makes it pos-
sible the use a graph structure.
   As a third key element of the project, in order to support the experimentation of
any tool or technique of m-learning, a rather complex information system is neces-
sary. Its role includes distributing didactic material, users identification and authoriza-
tion, gathering of data relative to the user-system interaction, provisioning of mobile
services, supplying statistics on level of usage and satisfaction etc. From this point of
view, the project attempts to interconnect m-learning technologies with e-learning,
and e-learning is in turn always more integrated in the information systems of aca-
demic institutions.
   E-learning systems, and Learning Management Systems (LMS) in particular, are
nowadays a key element in the learning processes that take place at Universities, and
they are widely investigated in literature [28], [29], [30], [31]. Several implementa-
tions are available on the market, like for instance LearningSpace™, WebCT™,
Blackboard etc. [32]. They are in the middle of a transformation from simple support
of on-line learning (like in the case of LMSs) into real information systems (Learning
Information Systems -LIS). As such, they integrate many components of the wide
spectrum of a formative action [33]. Our project needs to integrate such systems with
our project’s specific mobile-computing requirements. This means that we have to
focus mainly on two points: on the one hand we have all the administrative and back-
office processes of a Faculty (e.g. exam registration, didactic design, theses manage-
ment, bookkeeping of teacher’s activity, University marketing etc.).
   On the other hand, research attempts to focus on the technological evolution that
brought to people mobility and mobile terminals (PDAs, pocketPCs, cellular phones,
smart-phones, tabletPCs etc.) that are now present in every day’s life. These tools are
an interesting for a LIS, since they allow the various actors (such as students, teach-
ers, administrative personnel etc.) to have a mobile platform that keeps them in touch
with the LIS wherever they are. The possible applications are therefore very many:
we can for instance think at the possibility for a secretary to communicate with mo-
bile-technology enabled students, or at possible mobile collaboration among teacher
and students within a course framework (our research will explore this aspect).
   Some work has been done on Learning Management Systems, but the idea of a
University Information System having a mobile component that belongs to the skele-
ton of the Information System is still in its infancy. It is therefore clear that it is not
possible to be concerned with single classes of actors without considering the whole
picture, since LIS aggregates users with different roles. The focus therefore moves
   Designing Models and Services for Learning Management Systems in Mobile Settings   97

from a system dealing with “courses” to a system that deals with “virtual communi-
ties”, i.e. with a generalized communication space that allows using a variety of tools
to support collaboration needs that may arise in various situations. A virtual commu-
nity can be supported at various levels by mobile technologies. LIS, in our definition,
become computerized tools that give various kinds of services to virtual communities.
Such services can be adapted to the special needs of a given community. One research
aspect of the present project is therefore linked to virtual communities and info-
mobility related to learning: we intend study and experiment how activities of an e-
learning portal can be integrated with the emerging mobile technologies. The research
group will use an already existing community-oriented e-learning portal that has been
in use for some time to integrate and test mobile technology and related methodolo-
gies.




                         Fig. 1. A general schema of the prototype



4 Evaluating Mobile Learning Settings

The experience from years of development and use, the advance of technology, and
the development of authoring tools for questions and tests has resulted in a sophisti-
cated, computer based assessment system. However, there is still a lot of room for
further development. Some of the current ideas for development are discussed in the
remainder of this paragraph. In line with many writers in the field of assessment, we
distinguish three types of assessment:
98   Alfio Andronico et al.


• diagnostic assessment; it provides an indicator of a learner’s aptitude for a pro-
  gramme of study and identifies possible learning problems;
• formative assessment; it is designed to provide learners with feedback on progress
  and informs development but does not contribute to the overall assessment;
• summative assessment; it provides a measure of achievement or failure made in
  respect of a learner’s performance in relation to the intended learning outcomes of
  the programme of study.
    The most common distinction in the literature is that made between formative as-
sessment and summative assessment. A formative computer-based test is described as
one where the results of the test do not contribute to a student’s final grades. Instead,
the student’s scores are used to assist in improving the student’s learning, often by
identifying weaknesses in the student’s knowledge and understanding of a given area
or by helping them to identify and correct misconceptions. In a similar way, lecturers
can also make use of the results obtained to help them improve their teaching by iden-
tifying areas that students have found difficult to understand. Nonetheless, in many
assessment activities the difference is not so evident.
    A primary aim of assessment is provide the necessary information to improve fu-
ture educational experiences because it provides feedback on whether the course and
learning objectives have been achieved to satisfactory level. Yet, it is important that
the assessment data be accurate and relevant to effectively make informed decisions
about the curriculum [34]. As discussed above, formative assessment can also be used
to help bridge the gap between assessment and learning. This may be achieved par-
ticularly where assessment strategies are combined with useful feedback, and inte-
grated within the learning process [35].
    This feedback need not be limited to correct/incorrect responses, but can include
detailed textual feedback about answers and the topic area of the question. Formative
assessment can assist in consolidation of learning, and in identifying weaknesses in
assumed understanding. We think that it would be helpful to be able to deliver the
same questions in a number of modes. For example, help mode, exercise and exam,
with the test author being able to configure this to their own requirements. The help
mode supports students when they start out on their learning; accordingly, the ques-
tions are delivered with maximum feedback including hints, visible marking on
screen and the chance to reveal a correct answer. Exercise mode restricts the help to
just visible ticks and crosses on screen for right and wrong responses. Finally, exam
mode presents questions with no option for revealing answers and no ticks/crosses
appearing.
    Our summative strategy consists of two phases: the former to find the approximate
student level, the latter to give the student the right mark using a set of questions cus-
tomized on his capabilities. The preliminary examination contains for every subject
two or more questions for each difficulty level. The score obtained by the student in
the first test is used to choose questions to propose in the second test. Using this tech-
nique we can build a test which is not redundant (due to the adaptivity) and the same
firs test set for every student, so we can get data on the quality of the items. Diagnos-
tic assessment is quite similar. In particular, the two-session strategy is the same. The
main difference is that it is taken before starting a course, to decide what kind of re-
sources will be used. In this case, the system knows nothing about the student’s
knowledge; it also records the scores of every answer, so the system can use them
when it needs to explain a topic already scored.
   Designing Models and Services for Learning Management Systems in Mobile Settings   99

    When an exam session is completed, we will have a score for every candidate and
for every question. To obtain a human-understandable mark we used a function de-
pending on two parameters α and p. We used this function in a large number of real
cases and the experimental data showed that the choice of α is important to obtain
well-distributed marks. This value can be adjusted after the test correction, in re-
sponse to the candidate’s answers. Moreover, useless items may be discovered. The
value p is used to give full marks.
    To compose tests easily from a set of items and correct them, the system uses nor-
malized questions and manages the item weighting: when an author creates a course,
he sets weights that will influence the automatic item selection and the scoring algo-
rithms. Some of the available forms of assessment strategies included in the proposed
system are:
• true/false,
• multiple-response question; it is defined as a question in which the candidate is
  required to select two or more correct answers from a list of options. Both the
  number of correct answers and the number of options may vary. We consider the
  following three principle modes: i) constrained selection: the student is forced to
  make a prescribed number of selections, usually the same as the number of correct
  answers; ii) partially constrained selection: the student may make any number of
  selections up to the number of correct answers; iii) unconstrained selection: the
  candidate may make any number of selections up to the maximum number of op-
  tions,
• extended matching item and drag and drop question types share the same process
  of selection. In either case the student is required to select a number of items from
  a list then enter or move them to their correct positions. Thus the candidate must
  make two selections - which item and where to put it. The scoring simplest form
  considers a positive score allocated for each item correctly positioned,
• image hot spot,
• code writing.
   The process of assessment involves gathering information from a variety of
sources to develop a rich and meaningful understanding of student learning. Modern
computer assisted assessment packages are capable of storing and analysing vast
amounts of information on student learning. With appropriate analysis this data can be
used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of individual students and match them
to learning resources that meet their needs.
   Finding appropriate, high quality resources has now become a significant chal-
lenge. Furthermore, based on user’s requirements and interests, filtering and retrieval
tools should be developed, improving their usage. Information filtering systems can
help learners by eliminating the irrelevant information, operating like mediators be-
tween the sources of information and the learners. Personalized filtering should be
also a process of filtering based on not only the long-term interests but also the short-
term requirements. For these purposes, we consider relevant the integration of an
hybrid recommender system that combine content analysis and the development of
virtual clusters of students and of didactical sources. This information management
system provides facilities to use the huge amount of digital information according to
the student’s personal requirements and interests, with special focus on the develop-
ment of new algorithms and intelligent applications for personalized information
100   Alfio Andronico et al.

classification and filtering. In this way data can be obtained about which material is
proving to be most effective in raising student achievement. Taken together with the
profiles of student strengths and weaknesses, this may prove an effective tool for
identifying which resources are most suitable for each student, giving them an indi-
vidual program of study, tailored to their needs.
    The assessment process could be organized in the following phases:
a) Creation of the architecture for the management of the evaluation moments for the
whole formative process: that is, the teaching interface building (through mobile de-
vices and through fixed Web positions), the student interface building (through mo-
bile devices as cellular telephones, PDA, Smart-phone etc.) and the administrative
interface building, for example for the creation of authorized teachers and students.
b) Creation of the test databases organized in atomic sets of different kind of requests
(multiple choices, open, closed, fill in gap, building of sentences, problem-solver …).
Please notice as the sentences building is applicable to also very different contexts
among them, what, to example, the program writing (building of code) and the slang
contexts of hypothetical deductive disciplines: in these cases, in fact, we should use
words extracted from a predefined vocabulary and verify the respect of detailed set of
rules.
c) effectiveness and consistency analysis of the databases produced to the previous
point through the application of “item analysis specifications” (on real cases)
d) Management of the various assessment processes. The distinction of the evaluation
moment affects the management, for example, the choice of questions to be submitted
to each student.
e) system evaluation which allows to make experimentations on the principal plat-
forms which at present the more diffuse PDA computers equip on the market. We
intend to experiment the project using different student groups, for example in “Pro-
gramming” course (Laurea Triennale in Scienze dell’Informazione, Cesena) and “Ar-
tificial Intelligence and E-learning” (Laurea Specialistica in Informatica, Bologna).


5 Adapting a Learning Management System to Infomobility

As already mentioned, a rather complex information system is needed in order to
support the experimentation of any tool or technique of m-learning,. The role of such
system includes distributing didactic material, user identification and authorization,
gathering of data relative to the user-system interaction, provisioning of mobile ser-
vices etc. The objective of the project is to obtain an unified platform where the vari-
ous actors can use different communication services, both mobile and not. In this
regard, e-learning systems in general, and more specifically Learning Management
System, are by now a vital component in the distance educational field. We have to
integrate LMS with two different classes of processes:
− on one hand, processes connected with the administrative (back-office) activity of
  a faculty (like registering exams, programming the teaching activity, theses man-
  agement, bookkeeping of the lecture hours, faculty marketing etc.: all such proc-
  esses have important overlaps with processes managed by an LMS.
  Designing Models and Services for Learning Management Systems in Mobile Settings    101


− on the other hand, technology evolution has pushed toward a strong mobility of all
  the actors, and has furnished mobile devices (PDA, pocketPC, cell-phones, smart-
  phones, tablet-pc) that accompany the user in every day’s life. Such tools can be-
  come additional terminals for a LIS, because they allow all actors (students, teach-
  ers, secretaries, dean, tutors, administrative personnel etc.) to stay in touch with the
  LIS wherever they are.
   The number of possible applications is huge: for instance, the possibility for the
administration to communicate in real time with students equipped with such devices,
new forms of collaboration among students and teachers within an University course,
the chance for the students to interact among them regarding the courses etc. The
focus moves therefore from a system that is based on “offering courses” into a system
based on the idea of “virtual community”. A virtual community is a highly general-
ized collaboration space. In such way, a course given by a teacher, a seminar, the
group of students preparing their thesis with the same teacher, students working to-
gether on a project, etc. are all instances of virtual communities. A LIS becomes a
computer-based tool that gives services to virtual communities, and must be adapted
to the specific needs of each particular community. We already built, over several
years, a community-oriented learning portal. Starting from this existing background,
we intend to experiment various ways to support collaboration among users intercon-
nected by mobile technologies through the already active portal based on our LIS.
   The adaptation of the Learning Information System to info-mobility will need dif-
ferent steps:
a) Extension of the traditional functions of a Learning management system to the
   mobile-computing needs required by the project. This will imply the creation of
   teacher-system-student interaction tools mainly based on SMS messages concern-
   ing the activities of these actors in the system. Moreover, the portal will provide an
   access point to the system’s actors, in order to download the educational material
   and the self-evaluation tests produced according to the objectives of the project.
   Besides, different structures will be created to support the research activities, like
   forums usable via mobile technologies, mailing lists for the various users, man-
   agement of some virtual communities (students enrolled in a course, participants to
   laboratories etc.).
b) Distribution of the educational material specifically created for the fruition on
   mobile equipment. This will regard both the educational materials and the self-
   evaluation tests created in point c)
c) Integration of the self-evaluation system into the LIS. This system will allow con-
   ducting tests on the main platforms that currently equip the most widespread PDAs
   on the market. The choice of producing self-evaluation applications for both the
   PDAs environments is because we want to extend as much as possible the experi-
   ment, and most of all we want to create a self-assessment mechanism that must be
   generalized as much as possible with respect to technological platforms, due to the
   extreme volatility of the market.
   As regard as the development of the systems, we decided on which devices to con-
centrate our development. This is a very important issue, as the market is continu-
ously changing with new products emerging everyday. So, it is practically impossible
to have a general mechanism for involving all possible devices currently available.
We found the following devices useful for our experimentations:
102    Alfio Andronico et al.


•   GSM/GPRS cellular phones
•   PDA
•   Smart-phones
•   UMTS telephones
•   Tablet PCs
   The platforms have been already found in their main components. These platforms
will be the ones based with Symbian OS on one side (this means to involve the whole
cellular phones market with the biggest world producers), and on the other side the
platforms equipped with Windows CE, i.e. the PDAs that present points of contact
with the Windows desktop environment in terms of applications and working envi-
ronment. We will also experiment with the Palm OS, so that our experiment will
cover a very large share of the market. In the first step of the project, however, the
choice made on some Microsoft™-dependent PDAs is related mainly on the consid-
eration that most of the educational material is currently published in Microsoft™
software tools, especially PowerPoint and Word. In this sense, a device equipped with
Microsoft™ operating systems will facilitate the interchange of educational material
already available. However, the modular structure of the approach followed in the
building of web services based on XML and SOAP will provide a sufficient grade of
extensibility of our mobile platform to other PDAs, like those that are equipped with
Symbian OS.
   The test of the system will consist in some lessons conducted using Learning ob-
jects distributed using the LMS and used by students and teachers using PDAs, tradi-
tional viewers (like PowerPoint and Acrobat Reader) and other available mobile de-
vices. Part of these educational materials will be available only through mobile
devices: students will have to learn studying only on PDAs. In this way, different
groups that have studied on different devices with different approaches will be avail-
able for our research: those who followed face-to-face lessons, those who studied on
learning objects without following the lessons and those who studied on mobile de-
vices. By creating a specific and calibrated set of tests, we want to verify the level of
learning of the single groups, by analyzing the differences and the relative motiva-
tions. The results of these tests will be matched with the results of the self-evaluation
tests distributed to the students, in order to verify thoroughly the level of learning
reached by the students. The reactions of the students will be also analyzed, especially
those related with problems in studying with a new but limited tool like a portable
device. For this purpose, a forum on the web will be specifically activated, and some
tutors will be available in order to help students with practical or technical problems.
   As regarding the use of specific tools available with mobile technology, the most
evident problem we faced in the design phase was the choice of the technology by
which building the tools provided to the client in order to use our services. The cur-
rent project provides ten different classes of services to mobile users, but in order to
simplify the choice, we decided to concentrate initially on two different services for
mobile devices:
• The management of SMSs sent by teachers to students or by administrative staff to
  teachers and students when particular events happen (meetings, reminder for expi-
  ration dates etc.)
  Designing Models and Services for Learning Management Systems in Mobile Settings   103


• The consultation of a common agenda (we call it organizer) that will be available
  on the mobile device and will keep all the important dates for the actor (mainly
  students and teachers)
   The first service is quite simple to build but not so easy to manage, if the LMS that
operates behind the scenes does not have all the information needed. The main prob-
lem has been found in allowing the right person to send and receive SMSs, and in
granting this permission inside correct boundaries, in terms of number of SMSs
sendable by the user. The second service is under development and is more compli-
cated, as it involves one of the most difficult task to manage inside a LMS, i.e., time
management. We are currently building a system that allows students and teachers to
connect with their mobile device and consult their agenda, dynamically built with all
the events that could happen during a normal university activity. This implies a great
effort of abstraction and integration between the LMS platform and the mobile de-
vices. We have evaluated five different alternatives to build the interaction between
the PDA (the platform chosen for the experimentation) and the central database. The
problem is related to the way the client (the PDA) interrogates the remote server
module requesting the update of the events since last connection. These are the alter-
natives we evaluated and tested, from the simplest to the most complicated:
• Using the embedded browser of the PDA to navigate through the web pages that
  web users will see using the traditional browser available for desktop PCs. This is
  the simplest solution, both for the users and for the development team. Only a par-
  ticular attention to screen adaptation is necessary, in order to concentrate the most
  important information on the left-uppermost part of the screen and to avoid the ne-
  cessity of frequent scrolling. The web page will be created using device-specific
  tags and languages, like the .NET™ mobile toolkit, in order to navigate through
  the data available on the server. However, we decided not to follow this solution as
  the primary one, because of the necessity for the user to be constantly connected to
  the Internet to navigate through the organizer, thus requiring permanent connec-
  tions (like WI-FI settings) or a significant expense for the students and the teachers
  when connected to the net using GPRS technology. In Italy this solution is very
  costly at the moment, and WI-FI technology with wireless LAN is still in its in-
  fancy. Other short-range connection solutions have been abandoned, as we want
  this service to be used outside the campus.
• Using a client database application, built specifically for mobile devices, that inter-
  rogates the server DB through the internet, synchronizing the data on the mobile
  device. This is a proprietary solution bounded to the back-end DB used and the
  availability of a Internet connection on the PDA, that requires also quite compli-
  cated settings from a end-user perspective. However, from our tests, this solution
  has the advantage of dramatically boosting performance, thus reducing connection
  times.
• Synchronizing the PDA with the central database and the agenda of the user by
  using cradles and database synchronization: this solution will solve a lot of issues,
  but creates a problem in terms of cradle availability around the campus, and espe-
  cially the problem of supporting different cradles for different models of PDA.
• Building a client/server application in which the client (on the PDA) uses tradi-
  tional RPC/RMI mechanisms to invoke server methods in order to receive data.
  This has the advantage of requiring short-time connection to the central system,
104   Alfio Andronico et al.

  and could be personalized to the PDA device. The disadvantage of this solution is
  the proprietary mechanism of communication between server and client, and also
  the necessity of using particular TCP/IP – UDP ports that could complicate the
  management of security on the server side due to firewalls.
• Building a web application that request a web service through the use of
  XML/SOAP messages to the server. This is the best solution we found, as it pro-
  vides the access in short time to the central database through the use of open tech-
  nology like XML/SOAP, will use a port that is already opened for web access, and
  finally will guarantee the extension of the client part to other PDAs simply by cre-
  ating the new client interface to the web service. We will therefore provide the
  agenda synchronization through a web service that will recognize the user, verify
  the state of his/her agenda, and will send an XML-formatted packet of data regard-
  ing last events in the system. The client side of the application, specific for the de-
  vice, will format this data for the display: after that, the connection with the server
  will be closed and the navigation on the agenda will be completely off-line.


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